Film Review: ‘Woman In Gold’

Life of the Party


1/2 out of 4 stars

Although she’s been a working actress for over two decades, Melissa McCarthy didn’t hit real pay dirt until her well-deserved Oscar-nominated performance in “Bridesmaids” in 2011. Playing a ribald ball of fire, McCarthy shared two scenes with her off-screen husband, Ben Falcone (he was the air marshal), and it was pure gold and, as it turns out, marked their sole successful artistic collaboration to date.

“Life of the Party” is the third film directed by Falcone, the third co-written by and starring McCarthy, and it marks career ebbs for both of them. For Falcone, that’s not saying much, as everything he’s done thus far professionally (besides being a sex prop in “Bridesmaids”) has been a total disaster.

If you are a McCarthy fan and reluctantly agreed that “Tammy” and “The Boss” were complete busts, you’ll need to prepare yourself to consider them classics when compared to “Life of the Party.” It is relentlessly and aggressively unfunny on every front and offers further proof as to why the only Hollywood producer willing to hire Falcone is McCarthy. He’s lucky that nepotism in the movie business will likely never be declared a crime.

The premise is a lazy reworking of “Back to School” starring Rodney Dangerfield. Instead of a rich widower returning to college alongside his male child striving get to his degree, it’s a soon-to-be-divorced woman doing the same with her daughter. Deanna (McCarthy) — later known as Dee-Rock — is summarily dumped by husband Dan (Matt Walsh) in the first scene. He’s now dating real estate agent Marcie (Julie Bowen), and Deanna reacts to the news by burning some of Dan’s belongings in a bonfire. Ha-larious.

Deanna channels her sadness and anger by picking up where she left off 20 years ago by re-enrolling as a senior at the fictional Decatur University (actually Agnes Scott), where daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon — looking nothing like McCarthy or Walsh) is starting her senior year. Oh, the irony.

Through clenched teeth, Maddie kinda-sorta gives Deanna her blessing, provided she remains at arm’s length. Being the mom jeans/ugly sweater/aw-shucks woman Deanna is, this is impossible to do, but in micro-doses this stuff is mildly charming, a point not lost on Maddie’s low-information sorority sisters, one of whom is known far and wide as “coma girl.” They are almost perfectly PC-balanced, and all of them LOVE Deanna, prompting Maddie into a short-lived slow burn.

At a frat party, Deanna flirts with and (spoiler alert) beds Jack (Luke Benward), a toothy, boy toy stud muffin who becomes instantly smitten and obsessed with her. This portion of the narrative — while not impossible to swallow — comes close and marks the point where the film goes from being simply an unimaginative light farce into a full-tilt McCarthy vanity project.

The plot completely jumps the tracks and careens into a brick wall when Deanna and her “sisters” attempt a bad copy of the parade scene in “Animal House” and, in doing so, immediately turn the bad guys into sympathetic victims. There’s also a riff on the “Animal House” “thank you sir, may I have another” scene where Maddie strikes Deanna on her bottom with a paddle. No one with half a brain besides Falcone and McCarthy will find these pathetic stabs at humor acceptable or even forgivable, and they establish the movie’s narrative nadir.

The mention of a real-life celebrity (ala “Bridesmaids”) plays into the plot, providing the story with its sole minor bit of interest, and should have been the final scene, yet Falcone and McCarthy pile on more and turn what should have been a mere 90-minute exercise in semi-torture into a nearly two-hour punishing slog.

Not so coincidentally, “Life of the Party” is coming out on Mother’s Day weekend in the hopes that it will provide a bonding option for moms and their daughters — something made all the more attractive because of the tepid “PG-13” level of danger. Had the filmmakers gone hard “R,” they might have maybe wound up with something like “Bridesmaids” or “Animal House” — something that would have surely resulted in reduced box office receipts.

This is not the last we’ve heard from the Falcone/McCarthy “creative” brain trust. They’re currently filming the action comedy “Superintelligence,” slated for a Christmas 2019 release. Ho ho ho.

(New Line/Warner Bros.)

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